When you visit iconic architect Richard Meier’s website you will see a splendid display of sleek white & light modern structures and design. Yet, when you visit Meier’s newly open museum in the Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ you will be able to admire the fantastic wood models that served as the seedlings for his cutting edge architecture. While talking to one of the firm’s architects at the opening of the museum’s new location I asked about the process of building these models. I was told that the wood is chosen for its engineering qualities, mono-chromatic natural look, as well as the ease of working with it to build scale models. Most of the wood they use is Basswood, although some is Cherry. The firm still uses “old world” techniques for milling, cutting and creating parts. Instead of using industrialized CNC techniques they prefer the x-acto knife, the bandsaw and the table saw. They actually encourage their architects and model makers to get off the computer and work with their hands to experience the challenges of creating a three dimensional object that is affected by gravity (unlike the 3D models that reside on the computer screen and that are generated by a CAD program).
This connection with matter and the planning process is a good exercise for the company’s architects to understand the buildings they create. Wood is, as we know, the most versatile of all natural materials, and so in these magnificent models you can see wood in all its splendor: from huge laminated panels that form the topography, to bent wood shapes such as volts, cylinders, and cones that outline building exteriors, and on to the tiniest strips that form the windows and doors. Perhaps the most impressive sets of models were built during the design stages of The Getty museum in LA. Meier built huge models that are too big to rest on a single base, so they are built in segments that roll on casters and are joined together to make a miniature world of wood. The Mana museum is open to the public and I recommend that everyone interested in understanding the complexity of architectural design and the versatility of wood should pay it a visit.